Olivia D'Ambrosio's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

Your Personal Connection
We’ve all had defining moments in our lives. What personal connections with the arts and creative expression have had an impact on your life and views of the community?  

I have chosen and made a life in the professional theatre thanks to innumerable arts experiences, including: being told by a high school English teacher that I am in fact an artist, and taking my first steps under his guidance in writing and performing a 30-minute solo show; viscerally understanding my own mortality for the first time at a Hartford Stage production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town; helping my students at MIT discover the creative process and apply it to their STEM disciplines; and serving as Producing Artistic Director of Bridge Repertory Theater, where I’ve produced 14 mainstage productions and dozens of one-off events, creating over 300 work opportunities for local artists and arts administrators, and serving over 10,000 audience members, often at a highly or fully subsidized ticket rate. Throughout the various stages of my life – first as an arts student, and now as an arts practitioner and educator – I have come to understand the arts as a powerful, if often under-utilized, force in our lives. I am running for the City Council because I believe Cambridge has the ability and responsibility to set the bar in this country for ultra
progressive governance on every front, including but not limited to robust, inclusive arts policy. I will shift our orientation to the arts from an amorphous, flaccid “appreciation” for this sector and its workers. We will become a community that asks: how can we empower our arts to help us achieve all of our goals as a city?

City Investment in the Arts
As a City Councilor, how would you ensure Cambridge arts and creative community receives the funding it needs to fully realize its potential as a driving force in the community? While city investment in the Cambridge Arts Council has increased over past few years, direct support to the arts and cultural community does not meet the demand. Would you support a dedicated funding stream to provide funds for the creative community? At what financial level should the city invest in the Cambridge arts and creative sector?

With a total city budget exceeding $605 million, we allocate only $1.1 million to “Public Celebrations” – including $785,000 for the Cambridge Arts Council. Our arts grants fund is only $70,000 – or $9,000 less than the annual salary for a single City Councillor. The current message is loud and clear: our council sees our arts as a fringe component of society, not a community building force and economic engine that can help us accomplish all of our goals as a city. As a Councillor, I will advocate for more funding by re-contextualizing the arts, asking questions like: How can we use performance to facilitate conversations about climate change? How can arts education help develop our girls into strong leaders, our boys into thoughtful listeners, our non-binary children into confident adults, and all our kids into creative problem solvers? Can we better promote our arts to attract neighbors from Somerville and Boston who will park at our meters and eat at our local restaurants? And in return, can we give arts organizations the resources they need to be vibrant, accessible, non-partisan, non-denominational safe spaces where we congregate as one diverse community? A sector that can help accomplish so much deserves more than one half of one percent of our total budget. In order for our city to reap the benefits of a progressive inclusion of its arts and arts workers, we absolutely must dedicate more of our funding to this sector, and elect a Councillor who understands how to locate the arts within the city’s engine, rather than relegate this entire, robust industry to the status of a hood ornament.

Supporting a Diverse and Inclusive City
Cambridge is a diverse and thriving community. How would you use the creative community to build connections that maintain and support the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity that makes this city thrive?

Again, if we conceive of the arts as a complimentary sector that helps us achieve all of our goals as a city, we see the role it can play in giving voice and visibility to those that are vulnerable, unseen and unheard. As a sanctuary city, our arts spaces can provide a platform for under represented populations to tell their stories, and for immigrant populations to share,
practice, and preserve their cultural traditions. Many of our arts organizations and arts workers are already engaged, day in and day out, in this urgent, community-building, humanitarian work. However, when we starve arts organizations of funding in the manner that we do, the impact of their efforts is blunted. As such – and to repeat myself intentionally and forcefully – we have to start by giving our arts organizations and arts workers the kinds of resources they need to succeed in helping us reach our goals. Then, we need to foster dialogue between arts organizations and vulnerable communities to develop unique strategies for engagement, support and representation. Arts work best when they are part of a responsive dialogue.

Public Art and Creative Placemaking
Cambridge’s public art program is the oldest in the country. The city has a long history of supporting public art, yet caps and limits on funding have hampered artists’ abilities to fully engage and serve the communities. Would you consider expanding the program to require a percent for arts on private development projects, as well as public ones? Would you support expanding the use of % for arts funds beyond visual arts to performing arts?

Yes, absolutely, I would support an increase in funding for public art, and expand that funding to include both performing arts and arts in private developments. Yet another universal goal that the arts can help us achieve is the maintaining of the city’s unique aesthetic character as we make decisions about real estate and land development. I envision a Cambridge that requires formula businesses like chain restaurants and banks to show the work of 6 local artists each year, for two months per artist; and borrows from New York City by publishing poetry on the T, in lieu of a few advertisements; and
takes a page from our military – the largest single employer of professional musicians in this country – to provide music on a regular basis as a public good with significant psychological and emotional benefits. The widespread proliferation of public art can humanize our city, maintain its beauty and sense of character, and generally elevate our quality of life.

Space to Rehearse, Create and Live
The lack of affordable studio space and housing makes it hard for artists to stay in Cambridge. How would you keep artists of all backgrounds in the city and provide the support necessary to thrive?

Arts workers are among a class of workers including teachers, police men and women, and religious leaders who grow less and less able to afford to live in the city they serve. We need to educate artists – and all residents – on our inclusionary housing rules and regulations, including our now-developing middle-income inclusionary bracket, so they can avail themselves of these resources, if eligible. We also need to create rent protections for arts organizations and other nonprofits themselves, so they are neither starved nor forced out by astronomical, market-rate pricing. We need to make vacant spaces easily accessible and transformable to support the creation of pop-up galleries, performances, etc, while also creating a stream of licensure funding for the city. And we need to work with for profit corporations to create a method for sharing large spaces that can be utilized by arts groups at night, after business hours have ended.

Public Events
Some community institutions and artist groups have problems gaining access to public spaces in which they can gather, perform, create, and connect with the public. Would you encourage ways to allow more activity in community spaces?

Yes! Arts, arts everywhere.

Youth Engagement
Engaging students with the arts in school and out of school is essential to educating the whole child. While the CPS arts education curricula provides access to many, we need more participation in arts education. Cambridge’s out of school youth arts organizations continue to service thousands of kids, yet struggle to raise the resources needed to meet student demand. How would you invest in arts education for students of all ages, both inside and outside of school to ensure all youth in Cambridge have a connection to the arts?

The impact of arts education on a developing child cannot be overlooked. If we once again conceive of the arts as a vehicle that helps us accomplish all of our goals as a city – and if we agree that the education of our children is near or at the very top of that list – we simply cannot deny better funding for our out-of-school youth arts organizations. We can also work with arts organizations that currently do not include an educational component to see if we can create a net that keeps any of our Cambridge youth from slipping through the cracks, and missing out on the development to be had through arts education.

Corporate and Institutional Support for Arts and Creativity
Cambridge is home to many large corporate offices and world renowned educational institutions, whose workers and students enjoy Cambridge’s cultural assets. What responsibility should these institutions have in supporting arts and creative expression in Cambridge?

My campaign logo is an “O” comprised of pixels that morph into a paintbrush stroke. Why? Because I envision a “STEAM Exchange” program that makes Cambridge the first city in our country to offer access to the arts as a completely subsidized, or “free” public benefit. The program would work by pooling a very small percentage of corporate, for-profit revenues – particularly from our booming STEM sector – into a fund that is then re-distributed amongst our arts organizations such that each organization’s operating budget is increased by the same percentage. The goal would be to provide arts organizations with enough support to liberate them from having to sell tickets to performances or put a price on their services, thereby making those performances and services, etc, “free” and open to the public. In exchange, arts workers would interact with for-profit sector employees on an ongoing basis to develop creative thinking, listening, public speaking, and other skills that are honed through consistent arts training. By organizing ourselves as a city around the concept of creative process, we can see that our arts organization and our for profit sectors are not so different after all, and can in fact support one another in achieving their goals, while providing our city with the significant civic benefit of fully accessible arts for all.

Your “Go to” Places
Cambridge is blessed with a rich mix of arts and cultural organizations.  Please tell us about two places where you have had personally significant connections to the arts and/or cultural experiences.

My theater company is in residence at the stunning Multicultural Arts Center on 2nd Street – one of our cities most historic and inspiring spaces. As such, it is certainly one of my go-to’s. Meanwhile, Central Square Theater put on a riveting 2016 staging of The Convert, by Danai Gurira, which to this day remains one of the most impactful productions I have ever seen of any play in any city. And last year, I took a date to the Dance Complex for a performance just a few nights after the presidential election. The gentle leadership and insight offered by Executive Director Peter DiMuro, together with the stirring performance, were exactly the kind of non-partisan arts-antidote our community needed at that moment in time.

Thank you, neighbors, for taking time to learn more about me and my views on our arts sector. I humbly and respectfully request your #1 vote on November 7. Sincerely, your future Arts Councillor!


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